Preprint Article Version 1 This version is not peer-reviewed

A Thought Experiment on Sustainable Management of the Earth System

Version 1 : Received: 30 April 2018 / Approved: 2 May 2018 / Online: 2 May 2018 (12:41:08 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Heitzig, J.; Barfuss, W.; Donges, J.F. A Thought Experiment on Sustainable Management of the Earth System. Sustainability 2018, 10, 1947. Heitzig, J.; Barfuss, W.; Donges, J.F. A Thought Experiment on Sustainable Management of the Earth System. Sustainability 2018, 10, 1947.

Journal reference: Sustainability 2018, 10, 1947
DOI: 10.3390/su10061947

Abstract

We introduce and analyse a simple formal thought experiment designed to reflect a qualitative decision dilemma humanity might currently face in view of climate change. In it, each generation can choose between just two options, either setting humanity on a pathway to certain high wellbeing after one generation of suffering, or leaving the next generation in the same state as this one with the same options, but facing a continuous risk of permanent collapse. We analyse this abstract setup regarding the question of what the right choice would be both in a rationality-based framework including optimal control, welfare economics and game theory, and by means of other approaches based on the notions of responsibility, safe operating spaces, and sustainability paradigms. Despite the simplicity of the setup, we find a large diversity and disagreement of assessments both between and within these different approaches.

Subject Areas

decision dilemma; intergenerational welfare; time horizon; risk attitude; inequality aversion; fairness; responsibility; sustainability paradigms

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